‚Äú Ullswater ¬ĎSteamers¬í is an award winning Lake District attraction celebrating their 150th year sailing on England¬ís most beautiful lake. Currently we have four vessels operating on lake cruises on Ullswater; Lady of the Lake originally launched in 1877 and Raven in 1889. Lady Dorothy joined us in 2001 and Lady Wakefield in 2007. ‚Äě
During a recent visit to the Lake District we did a long walk up Helvellyn one day, and knew we would want an easier time the following day. Thus we decided to get the Ullswater Steamer to another part of the lake to explore at our leisure. As it was, the weather was fairly nasty (it was midsummer after all...) so we didn't really explore much more than a pub. The Ullswater Steam Navigation Company was founded in 1855 and has been doing sailing on the river ever since. In the beginning, they didn't just carry passengers, but mail and commercial and industrial goods around the lake.
We embarked on our trip at Glenridding where we were staying. There is parking by the steamer 'port', but as we were staying in the village, it was only a few minutes walk. The boats traverse the lake year round, but times depend on the time of year, to cater for the tourists in the summer, so this is worth checking if you have a specific schedule to maintain. In winter only two boats a day go to Pooley Bridge, for example. The boats don't run particularly early (the earliest in Summer departs at 9.45am) or run late (the last one in summer departs Glenridding at 4.45pm, and the last one from Pooley Bridge at 5.05pm) which is something worth factoring in, if you are planning on doing a walk around the lake and are relying on the steamer to get you back to base.
The journey time to Pooley Bridge is just over an hour, but it is only 35 minutes to Howtown if you prefer to get off here and walk to one or the other. You can buy single tickets or returns. The cheapest single ticket for an adult is to Howtown from either Pooley Bridge or Glenridding which costs ¬£6.20. Alternatively you can purchase the Lake pass, which is an all-day pass, and costs ¬£13.20 for an adult and ¬£6.60 for a child. There is also a family ticket available. If travelling as a group there are discounts - as a group of four adults, the fourth travels half price, which gave us a small saving. The Lake Pass also gives you discount admission to their sister attraction the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway. They also do a Sail Saver if you are staying in the area for up to two weeks, allowing you five days of travel on the boats. As well as an annual pass for regular visitors.
At the Glenridding ticket office there is a small shop selling snacks and gifts, and you queues at the counter to pay for these and your tickets. There are toilets here also. I paid by card for our party of four, but other members of our group paid cash individually. I believe you can also book online. We had aimed for the 11.15am sailing and arrived with time to spare but there isn't really that much to do apart from hang around, so we boarded as soon as possible. As it was windy we headed downstairs where there is a bar area serving alcohol and snacks like crisps and chocolate bars, as well as hot drinks. There are toilets on board each vessel, but I managed to refrain from using them.
Seats downstairs are cushioned with benches along the sides and stools around some (fixed) tables. to see what life was like above deck. After a while I decided to venture from the busy downstairs area. Wet and slightly windy would be the correct answer. I imagine on a sunny day, the sun reflecting off the still lake and the lush greenery would be a lot more photogenic that the grey water and dull, dark green hills. There is seating up top; there is a cover overhead, but with open sides. All the wooden seats were wet however so we stood up and tried to imagine what the views would be like in the sunshine, but without venturing too near the edge of the boat where we would get (more) windswept and wet. The weather was even worse on our return journey, so we stayed below and sampled the bar. The two boats we went on were quiet old (Western Belle on our journey to Pooley Bridge, Raven on our return). They seemed clean, and well-maintained. There was nothing a lick of paint wouldn't have fixed. Life vests were in an (unlocked) chest to be distributed by the crew in case of emergency. Fortunately this wasn't necessary, and we all felt perfectly safe. I understand that the boats don't run in very poor weather.
With your ticket you are presented with a small, colour printed leaflet containing a hand-drawn map. If you look at Ullswater on a conventional map, it is actually at a different angle, they have levelled it up to fit neatly in the leaflet. The map does explain the walks that you can do and the distances, which is handy. It also details the fleet of five steamers for the boat-spotters amongst you. Technically not all boats are steamers.
We didn't disembark in Howtown in the end. It had been on the schedule originally but the weather caused a general lack of enthusiasm for any of the walks, and we decided to stay in Pooley Bridge which had a wider range of facilities (and pubs). I understand that the Steamer pier doesn't have anything here either.
Pooley Bridge is a charming village with a few pubs, shops and places for tea and cake. You can, of course, so a number of walks in the area. The pier (which has toilets, a shop and facilities much like Glenridding) is just a few minutes walk from the village. However there is no waiting area, so in the rain, you either cram yourselves into the shop or huddle under umbrellas outside to embarkation time.
You can hire these boats for private functions and the company also organise special tours and cruises - check the website for details.
If you stay in the area taking a little cruise is a fun way to get around the lake to start or finish a walk, or even to have a little mooch about and I recommend taking a trip if you get the chance.
Mountains are not what you would describe as a specialist interest. There are very few people in the world who do not enjoy the beautiful scenery that the mountain landscape provides - but there are many who are unwilling or unable to trek for miles in order to experience it. There is a lot to be said, therefore, for a service such as the Ullswater Steamers that allows people of every age and fitness to see mountain scenery at its best.
What are the Ullswater Steamers?
The Ullswater steamers currently consist of four boats:
- Lady of the Lake, first launched in 1877.
- Raven, first launched in 1889.
- Lady Dorothy, launched in 2001.
- Lady Wakefield, launched in 2007.
These beautiful boats can be seen traversing Ullswater most days, weather permitting, joining the village of Glenridding at the southern end to Pooley Bridge in the north and the hamlet of Howtown halfway up the shore between the two. Each boat is equipped with seating and a licensed bar.
Pricing and Timetables
The pricing of a trip varies depending on your chosen route and the age of the people in your party. Those looking to take the boat from Howtown to Glenridding or vice versa and walk back along the lake shore should expect to pay around ¬£5.50 per adult and ¬£2.75 per child, or if you would rather buy a return route and take the steamer both ways prices are ¬£8.80 for adults and ¬£4.40 for children.
For those looking to enjoy more time on the water, 'Freedom of the Lake Passes' can be purchased at ¬£12.00 for adults and ¬£6.00 for children. Family tickets are also available, priced at ¬£29.50 for the Freedom of the Lake or ¬£24.00 for a return between Glenridding/Pooley Bridge and Howtown.
The timetables for the steamers are some of the greatest logic puzzles I have ever encountered - availability varies depending on day of the week and season of the year. Generally there will be boats throughout the day during the Summer holidays, but it is best to check the website in advance - http://www.ullswater-steamers.co.uk/timetablefares.shtml
Also bear in mind that given the surrounding landscape, Ullswater's weather does tend towards the erratic and if you are at all in doubt then phone and check before departing (017684 82229). The steamers often run in heavy rain, but because of the size of the lake, strong wind can result in swells and this can lead to the steamers being cancelled. However, in fifteen years of relying on the steamers while walking I have never been let down.
Tickets can be bought from the visitor centres by the jetties at Glenridding and Pooley Bridge, and on the boats from Howtown pier. Trips last half an hour upwards, depending on your preference.
How to get there
The best parking for the steamers is available at Glenridding and Pooley Bridge, so I would suggest aiming for the visitor centres at these piers. Howtown has no amenities except a rain shelter and extremely limited parking. I'm afraid that as a non-driver I can't help much with directions, but both Glenridding and Pooley Bridge are large enough to locate on any sat nav or routefinder.
The first huge plus point for the steamers is the scenery. Ullswater is one of lakeland's most beautiful lakes, surrounded by some of her loftiest peaks, and it is a joy to sit outside on one of the steamers and watch them all scroll by. The second is the boats themselves, particularly Lady of the Lake and Raven. The red funnel and green and white sidings have become one of the trademarks of the Ullswater landscape. Thirdly, pricing is relatively cheap for a Lake District tourist attraction such as this.
The only major problem is the complexity of the timetables, mentioned above, and some occasional unpredictability. A personal quibble is that I would always prefer to sit outside, but some of the new boats do not have outside seating. Still, I'm sure that this is just my own taste - many passengers will be grateful to be surrounded by walls when the Ullswater wind is whistling across the lake! Visitors should remember to wrap up warm if considering a ride on the steamer.
I would recommend the steamers as an experience to pretty much everyone. The lake walk along the eastern shore means that the steamer can be used to create a memorable day hike, while those more interested in sightseeing, photography, birdwatching etc will find plenty to catch their attention. Children will also adore the boats and being able to see the lake from this angle. My only suggestion would be that this might not be the best trip for very young babies. The boats are not large, they are quite noisy and they can get very cold - not so much that it would bother an adult, but enough for a tired child. Otherwise, everyone should grab their rain coats to keep the wind out and pile on board!